Our Christmas Adventures – Meet the Neighbors
I’d been wanting to post this for a while now, but life has a tendency to get in the way and crowd out blogging every now and again. So this is a little bit old news, but I thought you’d enjoy the story and thoughts nonetheless.
Being away from the States during the holidays was an interesting experience for us. On one level, it was really nice not to have to worry about all those nonessential things like which parents we were going to visit and for how long, or what to bring to Christmas dinner, or how to make it to all the various holiday parties you feel obligated to attend. It was also nice not to see crowds of people bringing their kids to the mall to get their pictures with Santa Claus. I didn’t see a single Santa here. Romanian kids, apparently, must be smart enough to realize the real Santa wouldn’t waste his time getting photos with kids this close to Christmas Eve. I mean, come on, he’s got a lot of toys to build.
The new traditions were fun to take in. The loud cacaphony of the Bear Dance. Guys on the street dressed in fancy clothes, cracking long whips, and chanting. The enchanting smell of sarmale and carnati in the air. Vin fiert, Romanian spiced hot wine. Christmas carolers visiting every 30-40 minutes, from 9 am – 10 pm. Bands of musicians walking between apartment blocs, playing Christmas songs into the wee hours of the night.
Oh, and the New Years Eve fireworks pandemonium. At midnight on December 31, I wouldn’t wanna be anywhere else in the world but in the middle of Bucharest’s concrete jungle, professional-quality fireworks launching from apartment windows and rooftops in every direction. It felt like we were in the middle of a war zone. As far as we could see, explosions lit up the sky and ushered in the new year with glorious abandon. We loved it.
There were the obvious feelings of loneliness and missing home and familiar surroundings, but we’ve got a lot of good friends here who we’ve been able to share the holidays with, so that helped a lot. And we tried to use the holidays as a time to do more ministry, since people everywhere during Christmas are thinking about the birth of Jesus, attending church, giving gifts, etc. What a great opportunity to share about Jesus, the greatest gift of all.
One of our big outreach “events” (if you can call it that) was a giant cookie delivery to every neighbor in our apartment complex. The whole week before Christmas, we prepared gift bags to deliver to every family in our apartment bloc. This time of year in Bucharest, apartment residents are bombarded by carolers singing songs in exchange for treats. Carolers came to our door every 30 minutes or so the last few days leading up to Christmas. It was fun at first but got a little ridiculous. Anyway, we thought we’d take advantage of the holiday spirit and the openness toward visitors this time of year and go around and deliver some gifts instead.
We made up 26 gift bags, each filled with almost two dozen homemade cookies (biscuiti de casa), tracts containing our personal testimonies, and homemade cards sharing the Gospel through the idea of Christmas. And then, Saturday afternoon, we prepared to go and deliver them to all our neighbors, sharing the love of God in a real easy, practical way.
Before we left, we practiced a few Romanian phrases that would come in handy. Our lines went something like this: “Merry Christmas! We’re your neighbors from apartment 142. We wanted to give you some homemade cookies.” At which point Jessie would jump in with, “I made them.”
Before leaving, I was surprisingly nervous. Not only would we be talking to “strangers” outside our front door, but these were people whose language we barely spoke. What if we said something stupid? What if we offended someone? What if no one answered their doorbell? What if someone did? Then what? Then we’d actually have to talk to them. Scary, I know.
Regardless of the nerves, we had a great time.
We spoke our lines really slowly, I think we scared one neighbor who looked at us suspiciously, we forgot to tell some people who we were, not everyone was home, but we got to deliver the Gospel (and cookies) to all our neighbors, and God opened some cool doors for us. Pun intended.
We’ve had a really crabby neighbor who yells at everyone in the complex, but after we gave him his gift bag, he’s had nothing but nice stuff to say to us. He hasn’t come yelling at our door, he hasn’t scowled at us in the hall. In fact, he’s smiled at us, held the door open for us, and treated us nicely instead. So that was a nice result of the grand cookie endeavor.
We met an English-speaking couple above us who invited us into their home, Laurencio and Ana Maria. They’re both really busy working full-time jobs and are rarely home, but we had a good time getting to know each other and share a little bit about why we’ve come to Romania. We’ve never seen them before in the complex, but apparently they’ve lived here for years. They were the only English-speakers we met, so we’re praying for more opportunities to connect with them.
My favorite door that God opened was with this older couple in their upper-70s who live right below us. They invited us inside, we spoke in slow, painful Romanian, and we actually were able to communicate reasonably well. We didn’t talk about anything real deep, but we did get in a discussion about Catholicism. Since most of the time we speak Romanian is among Christians, we’ve grown pretty used to Romanian “Christianeze.” While we were talking with this older couple, without thinking, Ben instinctively responded “Amen” to some random statement the guy made. “Oh,” he looked at Ben, “are you Catholics?” We told him that, no, we weren’t Catholics, just Christians who loved Jesus.
As we were preparing to go, the old man got up, “I don’t have any candy. Do you want sausages?”
“No, no,” we told him, “We don’t want sausages.”
“Money? Let me give you some money.”
“No,” we said, “We don’t want anything.”
Well, he grabbed 20 lei anyway and gave 5 lei to each of our kids. Then he invited us to their house for Christmas dinner in a few days, telling us proudly, “We have TV for the kids.”
Once again, I’m amazed at the generosity of Romanians. This old couple had barely anything in their house, yet they gave us 20 lei for the kids and invited us into their home for Christmas. Oh, and the woman even offered their granddaughter in marriage to Ben. He hasn’t taken her up on the offer yet.
Man, it was so much fun meeting our neighbors and delivering tracts and cookies. It’s gonna be fun when we can actually communicate clearly with them, not just stumble through our lines, but we did what we could and God blessed it.